Three men in theatre auditorium

State of Theatre Access 2019

Earlier this year, a team of 21 volunteer researchers visited hundreds of websites belonging to theatres across the UK: focusing on those that listed at least one upcoming professional performing arts production. State of Theatre Access 2019 published Thursday 17 October 2019, reports on the findings of this survey. Download the full report in PDF or Large Print Word format at the bottom of this page.

The first section of the report seeks to raise awareness of the importance of having access information on a theatre’s website, something that just over a quarter (26%) of UK theatres fail to do. We provide a checklist of essential information that all venues should have, and information about best practice in location, structure and formats.

The second section provides a snapshot of the access services being provided in UK theatres to enable as many people as possible to experience and enjoy the performing arts. The key finding here is that only around 3 in 10 (29%) of UK theatres list one or more access services for an upcoming production.

Many theatres provide more than one service, but overall:

  • 20% provide audio description for performances
  • 21% provide British Sign Language for performances
  • 19% provide captioning for performances
  • 4% provide dementia-friendly performances
  • 20% provide relaxed performances

In the report we provide figures for the number of productions and performances for each service, accompanied by quotes from theatre-goers who use and value them, and useful organisations.

Overall, the audit appears to show between 3% and 5% fewer theatres were providing the established access services of audio description, BSL and captioning, while 10% more theatres offered relaxed performances, compared to findings from our previous survey in 2017. Jess Thom and Matthew Pountney of Touretteshero, whose wonderful campaigning work for neurodiversity in theatre, have written the section in the report on relaxed performances.

Though we did not record dementia-friendly performances in 2017, it is certain that these have increased in volume, and we’re delighted that Nicky Taylor, who, as part of her pioneering work at Leeds Playhouse, created the first ever dementia-friendly performance and consults on them nationally and internationally, has written about them for the report.


“This is the fourth State of Access report that VocalEyes has produced in partnership with Stagetext and other sector partners. Each year we get a better insight into just how truly inclusive (or not) the arts are in the UK. It helps us understand better the information and resources that arts and heritage organisations make available to remove barriers to access. We are making progress, but it’s slow and there’s a long way to go. We hope that this report will be a useful tool for everyone who has the ambition and vision to make their work accessible to all.”

Lynette Shanbury, VocalEyes Chair of Trustees, and Executive Director / Joint CEO, Polka Theatre

“This is an extremely important report, which highlights the necessity of removing barriers facing disabled people.  Its findings illustrate the extent of the problems disabled people experience when accessing the theatre. That less than a third of theatres list an access service for an upcoming production, and only a fifth offer relaxed productions, shows how much needs to be done to change theatres’ relationships with its disabled audience. I congratulate VocalEyes, Stagetext, Tourretteshero and the Leeds Playhouse for the work that they have done to draw attention to this issue. The theatre must be open to everyone, and everything must be done to ensure that disabled people have access to the dramatic arts.”

Marsha de Cordova MP, Shadow Minister for Disabled People

“We are really pleased that this crucial survey identifies the continued discrepancies between what is on offer for non-disabled audiences and what is made accessible. In the 40 years that Graeae has been championing the right to theatre for all, we have seen a lot of change, but there is still a lot of work to do. The finding that fewer than 30% of UK theatres list one or more type of access service for upcoming productions tells us just how far there is to go. Together with our friends at Stagetext and VocalEyes, and other allies across the sector, we will continue to work to change the ethos of our industry to create a genuinely accessible, inclusive theatre landscape. We hope that the findings in this report can act as a catalyst to move things forward.”

Graeae Theatre Company

“I’m a passionate believer that art should be accessible to everybody. Human diversity is normal and natural – and is here to stay. Institutions need to be imaginative, flexible and do their best to cater for different needs. This report highlights what needs to be done and should inspire us all to make art and performance as inclusive as possible.”
Francesca Martinez, comedian, speaker, actress and writer

“No building can honestly call itself a ‘theatre’ unless it truly represents and includes everyone. Too many of us fall far too short of this mark due to outdated ideas of performance and the unspoken rules and rituals. It is time for us all to get radical and uncompromising. The tools we need to transform already exist – what we need now more than anything is a fundamental change of mindset. Rather than asking ourselves ‘How much effort will it take for us for improve access?’ we need to ask ‘Why are we wasting so much money and time doing everything we can to exclude certain people?’. Starting from a completely different place will lead us very naturally to a much more welcoming and vibrant future.”

Tarek Iskander, Artistic Director & CEO, Battersea Arts Centre

“It is non-negotiable that our theatres and public spaces should be accessible to all and it is staggering in the 21st century there is still the need to raise awareness of this and strive for equality. Aside from this being a fundamental human right, it makes good business sense for our theatres and public spaces to be fully accessible; with spending power of £250bn, disabled people are consumers with incredible power in their pockets. At the moment it feels we are merely scratching the surface with the options we offer disabled people and in order to remain current, theatre will need to continue to find more innovative, imaginative and visionary ways to integrate accessible elements into performances, which offer exciting artistic opportunities for creatives and performers as well as equality for audiences.”

Nikolai Foster, Artistic Director, Curve

Notes for editors

There are 11.9 million disabled people in the UK. That’s around 19% of the population, nearly 1 in 5 people. There are also 11 million people who are d/Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. Following the social model of disability, a person is disabled through the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal basis with others due to physical, sensory, intellectual, attitudinal or other barriers. Therefore access – in the theatre context – is the combined means by which the venue helps address such barriers, through information, access services, resources and alternative formats.

 State of Theatre Access 2019 was produced by VocalEyes together with Stagetext, Leeds Playhouse and Touretteshero. For enquiries, please contact Matthew Cock on [email protected] or 020 7375 1043.